Legion shut down at state
Monticello goes 0-2 in first state trip in over a decade, but players say it’s not something to be mad about, rather something to build off
Coming into the state tournament, the Monticello Legion baseball team seemed to be peaking. The team was coming off a good season, and a great playoff run. The team also knew that to make any kind of mark at state, the great play would have to continue.
“We knew that to win a game, we had to play our best game of the summer,” said pitcher Jake Frederick.
Frederick, it turns out, was right. Monticello would have required great efforts to win one of their two state tournament games. Instead, they fell 7-0 to Lakeville North in the opener, before being eliminated 12-2 at the hands of Waite Park.
Monticello didn’t expect to be state champions. But they expected a bit more than what they found at the state tournament. Especially from themselves.
“We played with very little emotion,” said Coach Cole Deibele. “That was disappointing.”
Being at the state tournament, Deibele had expected to see the energy and excitement from the district playoffs carry over into the dugout and on the field. He wasn’t the only one.
“I was kind of surprised [too],” admitted Frederick, who pitched the first game. “I kind of expected us to come out with a lot more energy.”
One thing that likely zapped the energy out of Monticello was falling behind quickly in each game.
Monticello opened the tournament at 1 p.m. Friday against Lakeville North. Not long after one, Lakeville North had grabbed a lead, and they wouldn’t look back.
In the first inning, Frederick recorded two quick outs. But Lakeville North responded with two hits that seemed to come even more quickly. A two-out double by Reese Gregory put Lakeville in instant scoring position, and Dylan Jueger followed it up with a single to give them the early 1-0 lead.
Offensively, Monticello’s energy seemed to evaporate more slowly, disappearing good curveball by good curveball.
Monticello’s first nine hitters would go down in order before Hayden Laimer led off the fourth with a hit. He was moved around to third base for Jakob Kounkel, the team’s best hitter. But with two outs, Kounkel went down swinging.
Lakeville answered with another body punch. A walked batter was moved around the bases before scoring on a sacrifice fly.
For Frederick, it was a continuing lesson. He’s been brilliant for nearly two years straight. But he’s also had a propensity to get a little too fine with the strike zone and give away some unnecessary base runners.
“It’s a lot tougher,” said Frederick. “When you give [good teams] free bases, they take advantage right away. You just have to tighten things up against better teams.”
Unfortunately for Monticello, things went the opposite direction for the rest of the game. Fueled by a combination of walks, hits and errors, Lakeville added three runs in the fifth, before getting one each in the seventh and eighth.
Monticello would threaten a few times. Especially once Deibele asked them to lay off the curveball and sit on the fastball until they had two strikes.
Over the last six innings, Monticello knocked around seven hits, including three by Laimer. But they got nothing to show for it.
“We weren’t totally outhit,” said Laimer. “We just never got the key hit.”
Part of the problem at the plate, especially early in the day, seemed to come from their mentality.
“We all kind of psyched ourselves out a little,” said Laimer. “We thought we were going to see college prospects throwing mid-90s. Instead we saw more junk (off-speed pitches) than we’d seen all year.”
Laimer also alluded to playing from behind as being an issue, saying that guys ended up trying to do too much at the plate for most of the day, leading to pop ups and lots of near misses.
Unfortunately for Monticello, not much would change in the second game. At least not for the positive.
Monticello again gave up a run in the first. And they again trailed 5-0 after five, as they again failed to get the big hit, despite getting 10 base runners during the game.
The frustrations at the plate wore on the local nine, and eventually reared their head in the field, as Monticello committed seven errors, a whopping number for an otherwise good fielding team.
“A lot of our guys were really frustrated at the plate,” said Deibele. “When you have that first error, it can snowball pretty quickly.”
And like numerous groundballs, the game would get away from Monticello, as Waite Park pushed the lead to 8-0 before Monticello finally got RBIs from Kounkel and Jake Schmitz to break the 15-inning scoreless streak in the bottom of the seventh.
But, it was too little too late. Monticello was sent home on the first day of state.
They did however take some highlights away from Friday, and a whole bunch of highlights away from the experience, and the season, in general.
On Friday, they could point to Hayden Laimer’s five-hit day, or Jake Schmitz’s diving catch on a foul pop-up, plays and efforts that were remarkable at any level, but especially at the state tournament.
For the weekend, they enjoyed all of the chance to reap their rewards. They listened to Tom Kelly speak at the Thursday night banquet (apparently very funny). They got to the park early on Friday and watched some state tournament action. And they soaked in an opportunity they felt was well earned.
“We were really happy to be there,” said Frederick. “We had a pretty good year, and we deserved it.”
Without a doubt, the legion team deserved state. They turned in one of the best stretches of the year in the best district of the state. The two teams that finished ahead of Monticello in the district finished 1-2 in state, as Edina beat Eden Prairie for the championship.
And for the players that will be returning to Monticello next year to play for the Magic varsity team (including six regulars, and two of the top three pitchers), it’s about turning this experience into a learning one.
“We kind of got to see where we’re at for next year,” said Laimer. “It’s not something to be mad about, it’s something to build off.”